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New DA biotech center to help ensure food security

Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar led the inauguration of the state-of-the-art Crop Biotechnology Center (CBC) of the Department of Agriculture that will develop various plant products to help ensure food security and enhance the competitiveness of Philippine agriculture.

The facility -- located in the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) complex, in the Science City of Munoz, Nueva Ecija -- will also help attain the "Sustainable Development Goal No. 2 on Zero Hunger" of the United Nations, said Secretary Dar.

The recent UN Food Systems Summit held in New York, USA, underscored the important role of biotechnology and other scientific innovations in attaining food security by all countries.

"Biotechnology is the Philippine government’s response in the call for sustainable agricultural modernization," the DA chief said.

"As such, the Duterte government is investing in the establishment of state-of-the-art facilities that will conduct research for development activities to ensure the sustainable production of quality food items," he added.

In particular, he said the DA-CBC scientists will develop crop varieties that are high-yielding, early maturing, sturdier against pests and diseases, climate-resilient, more nutritious, and cost-efficient for the benefit of current and succeeding generations of Filipinos.

“This Crop Biotechnology Center is not just a showcase, but the 'ground zero' for increasing the productivity of various crops to feed the growing population of the country, which is also being tested by the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Secretary Dar.

"On behalf of the 'OneDA Family,' I challenge the CBC to be the catalyst of development and utilization of modern biotechnologies for crops," he added.

“And when we round up the other biotechnology centers here in the Science City of Muñoz -- such as the Livestock Biotechnology Center hosted by the Philippine Carabao Center, and the proposed fisheries biotechnology center under the DA-National Fisheries Research and Development Institute -- we would be building an ecosystem of agricultural abundance, adaptivity, and sustainability,” he said.

The P277.3-million CBC was funded under the US Public Law (US PL) 480 Program funds.

“The US is proud to support the construction of the CBC thru the US PL 480 Program also known as the Food for Peace Program. This cutting-edge center will be the heart for Philippines’ research and development on critical areas in agriculture biotechnology,” said Heather Variava, Chargé D’ Affaires of the United States Embassy in the Philippines, who was represented by US agriculture attaché Ryan Bedford.

For his part, DA-CBC chief Dr. Roel Suralta said that crop scientists of the "OneDA Family" agencies are all welcome to conduct their respective researches in the center for major crops, in addition to rice, such as corn, coconut, coffee, sugarcane, and banana.

Suralta said at the Center, they can do various R&D tasks using genomics and genetics, bioinformatics, and computational breeding, molecular breeding, genetic engineering and germplasm enhancement, tissue-culturing, diagnostics and ecosystem biology, natural products, and value-adding towards the creation of new or improved agronomic and horticultural crops.

Dar said that the Center will also help enhance and develop a core of suitably-trained and specialized personnel on various levels for research development in biotechnology and related fields.

Itong Crop Biotechnology Center ng 'OneDA Family' ay maituturing nating isang matibay na pamana ni Pangulong Rodrigo Duterte sa sambayanang Pilipino,” he said.

During the DA-CBC inauguration, Secretary Dar also led the launch of the Vitamin A-enriched "Golden Rice" for commercial propagation, making the country the first in South and Southeast Asia to approve for planting a genetically-modified rice.

“A product of biotechnology, 'Golden Rice' shows how science and technological advancement can be used for sustainable development," the DA chief said.

"As rice is our staple food, more Filipinos will have easy access on good nutrition through 'Golden Rice' – developed to contain high levels of beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A. We need to embrace technological advancement to improve our lives,” added John de Leon, executive director of DA-PhilRice.

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